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PPH: Regrets from taking Fen-Phen

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Walbridge, OH"My weight problem started years ago, in the 1970s," says Leila M. "I was an overweight child and my mother took me to a diet clinic. The doctor put me on a diet drug and I lost 61 lbs; that got me down to 128 lbs. But as time went on, I started gaining it back.

Fast forward to the 90s. At that time, another doctor prescribed Fen-Phen and he also gave me lectures about exercising and eating a balanced diet. He gave me an envelope with each pill numbered: I had to take one pill in the morning, another before I ate lunch, one after lunch, one before and after dinner and a vitamin pill every night. I took these meds for a while but after about two months I got really shaky. I had chest pains and my hair was falling out. I felt like my insides were going to jump right out of my body. And I had other symptoms including swelling and problems with my blood pressure.

Weight LossI told my doctor about these reactions, especially about the chest pains. He looked at me and said, 'I am going to take you off the Fen-Phen and just leave you on the Fen and see if that doesn't help.' I thought he was a quack but at the same time, I was so desperate to lose weight; I was willing to do anything I was told...

After complaining in a second visit, he took me completely off the Fen's and put me on Meridia—another diet drug. I took that for about three weeks but didn't feel any different. I couldn't stop eating—it was a real low point in my life. Next he gave me another diet drug to try.

Meanwhile, I had joined a health club but after a while, I got lazy. The weight wasn't coming off fast enough. I wanted to go to bed and wake up skinny. (I was only in my 20s.) I divorced my husband and decided that I had to do something for me. I went back to the doctor and the health club—at this point I was about 38—and said, 'I am done with all these diet pills, what else can I do?'

He ran a battery of tests and said my heart was healthy, blood pressure was fine, cholesterol was good. In other words, I was in good shape. He said I could go back on one of two meds: Fen-Phen or Redux.

I took Fen-Phen and my chest pains came back. My feet and ankles were swollen and my skin was so sore I could barely touch it. He stopped the diet drug and gave me a long lecture about surgery. He asked me to start a program like Slim-Fast. It was horrible and I couldn't stick with it. So I stopped seeing the diet doctor and ate my way back to fatness.

I was just surviving and gave up caring. My daughter started noticing things: she asked why I was wheezing and breathing so fast. I went to a new doctor but he just prescribed pain pills, sleeping pills, diet pills. For 17 years my legs hurt, I couldn't breathe. My blood pressure was 210 over 120: I even had to quit my job because I couldn't function. I was in the middle of lecturing my students and would forget what I was saying. It was like getting old—but I was only in my early 40s.

My niece finally snapped me out of it. She made me realize that I was so sick and urged me to go to her doctor. He advised me to have some blood work. Diagnosis: my thyroid was so underactive that it was almost non-existent. My blood pressure was extremely high and he noticed my breathing. They put me on a heart medication and said I was about to have a stroke or heart attack if I continued with the diet drugs. I stopped taking everything. I was digging a deep hole and couldn't get out of it without quitting all the prescription drugs.

This doctor put me on thyroid and blood pressure medication and told me that I have type 2 diabetes. Next up, I am scheduled to get tested for PPH.

I joined a Fen-Phen lawsuit in the late 90s and received a settlement. I had mitral valve regurgitation but I wasn't tested for PPH. It is interesting that a lawsuit involving Fen-Phen has come up again because now I have to see a cardiologist. I can't work and ended up on disability. I am barley functioning—all I want to do is sleep. I think the diet drugs played a huge part in how I feel today. And I'm not skinny.

If you are thinking of taking a diet drug, I recommend you think twice. Go the natural route instead because there is no magic pill--in fact it could kill you. I found out the hard way that it takes longer to take weight off than it does to put on. And I am scared now—what has it done to my heart? I realize now that I should never have taken Fen-Phen."

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